With Life, I work actively to create a space of coexistence among those involved in and affected by the exhibition – the art institution, my artwork, the visitors, other beings that join in,

the trees and other plants in the park, the urban landscape that surrounds the museum, and beyond. Through collectively exploring the world we share, we can, I hope, make it livable for all species.

Olafur Eliasson

Anyone visiting the Fondation Beyeler in the next months can walk into the building at any time of day, for the exhibition is open day and night and there are no doors or windows keeping the world out. The landscape surrounding the building spills into the interior, flooding the gallery spaces with a brackish, artificially green pond in which a variety of plants thrive.

… true freedom can only be found in the protection of others’ freedom, and even further in the protection of all life’s need to flourish.

Culture Hack Labs

Visitors may wind their ways through the exhibition along dark wooden walkways, accompanied by the ambient sounds of insects, traffic, and other people – as well as the smells of the plants and water.

Views of the surrounding landscape, a publicly accessible garden, become visible as visitors progress through the gallery spaces along a number of possible routes that allow them time to slow down, wander, and contemplate each of the subtly different spaces.

Since it is not possible to avoid complicity, we do better to start from an assumption that everyone is implicated.

Alexis Shotwell

Start with the plants, follow their inquisitive growth …

Natasha Myers

For Life, Eliasson has removed a broad section of the Fondation Beyeler’s windows. This act, which the artist describes as ‘caring’, opens up the museum to its surroundings, to the plants and animals of the public park, to the urban landscape, to the changing weather, and to the fluctuations in light and darkness.

Institution, visitors, and other life forms are thrown together in a space of coexistence. Life blurs the separation between outside and inside, museum and artwork – an effect that extends to Eliasson’s wish to keep the gallery open day and night.

Instead of dominating and forcing nature, we have the opportunity to align and become a force of/for nature.

Culture Hack Labs

Light and darkness significantly change the experience of Life. How it is experienced depends radically on the time of day: the water appears bright green in daylight and fluoresces at night, an effect achieved through a combination of ultraviolet light and a fluorescent dye in the water, known as uranine.

We talk about light all the time, but darkness is also important.

Anna Wirz-Justice

From the smallest bacteria, fungi and plants to flies and fish and mammals, living things all have a remarkably similar set of ‘clock genes’ that generate an internal cycle of about twenty-four hours.

Anna Wirz-Justice

The water fills the exhibition space, connecting the interior with the outdoor pond and creating a continuous waterscape. The surface of the water, depending on the light conditions and the weather, reveals a spectrum of reflections that involve the surrounding space as well as the visitors, making them co-producers of the artwork.

If we think we already know what is out there, we will almost surely miss much of it.

Jane Bennett

Objects are not necessarily solid, and my idea is that they might be more like liquids – you can’t really hold on to them.

Timothy Morton

The pond in the museum’s garden connects with the gallery’s interior spaces to create a continuous waterscape. A great number of plants, all of which thrive in shallow water, inhabit the surface of the pond: floating fern, dwarf water lilies, shellflower, red root floater, and water caltrop.

And the sun, the sun, this is all that it asks for …

Pireeni Sundaralingam

Some of these were already an integral part of the existing pond. Others will settle in this habitat during the course of the exhibition. These interlopers enter into dialogue with the existing flora of the museum park, the bushes, grass, and trees there, some of which are centuries old. The result is an interpenetrating, intertwined growth.

I shall never see them, those lightless rooms. Your breath bubbling up from hidden pools.

Pireeni Sundaralingam

Who made this planet livable and breathable for animals like us?

Natasha Myers

Eliasson takes inspiration from the anthropologist Natasha Myers, who invites us to ‘vegetalise’ our senses in order to grasp the potential of plant–people relations.

This stems from her proposal for an alternative to the Anthropocene, the present geological epoch defined by human activity: a new epoch that she calls the ‘Planthroposcene’. Myers’s ideas are rooted in the knowledge that plants are what made this planet liveable.

The art work offers the opportunity to activate the senses, with more than just sight – through the smells of the plants and water, the sounds of the surroundings, and the sensation of the moisture in the air – it activates the full sensorium.

… we do not yet know what a plant wants or what a plant knows.

Natasha Myers

The sense of time passing becomes part of the artwork. In Eliasson’s words, the exhibition tries to ‘unlock time’, to make its presence apparent not as a standardised unit of measure but as a lived, felt sense, inseparable from experience.

While Life gives the impression that nature has taken over the Fondation Beyeler, it is simultaneously clear that the exhibition evokes a profoundly sculpted experience. Eliasson sees the artwork as a naturalcultural landscape for humans and non-humans alike.

Visitors are encouraged to experience themselves within an expanded landscape, never alone, never fully separated, but as composite beings, invariably caught up in larger, unruly ecologies. Reminiscent of a quiet garden, the artwork exists at the same time in our global now, defined not least by the climate emergency.

It is hard for me to think of any challenge I might face without soliciting the assistance of others, human and not human.

Anna Tsing

… not just other human lives, but other sensate creatures, environments, and infrastructures: we depend upon them, and they depend on us, in turn, to sustain a livable world.

Judith Butler

Even when no human visitors are in the space, other beings – insects or birds, for instance – may fly through or take up temporary abode within it. Together and in relation to other, non-living things in the space, these various inhabitants and visitors form a fragile ecosystem, leaving, over time, traces of human and non-human interventions and interactions.

We need honesty. We need to be freed from our species-specific arrogance.

Lynn Margulis

Life, as a living organism, is subject to constant change. Exhaled air is inhaled again by other living beings and light is converted into oxygen by plants through photosynthesis.

Why advocate the vitality of matter?

Jane Bennett

Life is also about con-spiring – playing on the origin of the word (‘to breathe with’) as well as the dictionary definition of  ‘acting in harmony toward a common end’. It is about conspiring with others and with the planet. Recognising the interconnectedness of complex earth systems invites us to develop narratives for the future in full understanding that humans are not the primary species on this planet.

You are not unseen, not alone. A thousand billion lives bloom within your form, the universe of DNA that you carry inside you, only 10% human …

Pireeni Sundaralingam

Cameras in the gallery spaces and in the garden have been installed to inhabit the perspective of non-human creatures, placed, for example, just above the surface of the water or high up in a tree.

Birds have another dimension of colour.

Francisco Varela

We must imagine all the animals that animate nature around us, as having a soap bubble around them

Jakob von Uexküll

The cameras are equipped with a number of optical filters that mimic the perceptual apparatuses of other species. A multi-channel live stream, accessible day and night, alludes to more-than-human perceptions of time and introduces a range of multi-species perspectives of the exhibition and its surroundings.

In the snail’s environment, a stick that moves back and forth four or more times a second must be at rest.

Jakob von Uexküll

Do viewers move the artwork into their ‘now’ – the moment and world in which the encounter takes place?

Olafur Eliasson

Life is open: it is an exhibition with a fluid beginning and end, co-produced by the artist, his studio, the museum, and its visitors – by human and other actor.

This is a love song

Timothy Morton
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A digital platform hosting entangled ideas, inspiration, and information for the exhibition Life by Olafur Eliasson.
Curator of the exhibition
Sam Keller
The exhibition was realised by
Studio Olafur Eliasson and Fondation Beyeler in cooperation with Vogt Landschaftsarchitekten
Special thanks to
Christian Boros, Ulla Dreyfus-Best, Lizzy and Molly, Natasha Myers, Renzo Piano, Pireeni Sundaralingam, Günther Vogt, Anna Wirz-Justice
Patrons / Foundations / Sponsors
Pierre and Christina de Labouchere,
Ulla Dreyfus-Best, Faurschou Foundation,
Mr and Mrs Eric Freymond,
Mr Alexey Kuzmichev and Mrs Svetlana Kuzmicheva-Uspenskaya,
as well as further patrons who prefer to remain anonymous
neugerriemschneider, Berlin
Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York and Los Angeles
Concept, Supervision and Editing
Tasnim Baghdadi, Julian Mintert, Christina Werner
Design and Realization
Patricia Grabowicz, Mark Niedermann
Uli Nickel (DE), Pierre Rusch (FR)
Geoffrey Garrison (EN), Kristina Köper (DE), Holger Steinemann (DE)